Wildlife officials kill one of 399's offspring; other bears' locations unknown

By: 
Billy Arnold with the Jackson Hole Daily, from the Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, acting with authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has killed one of Grizzly 399’s offspring that was frequenting human-occupied areas in Sublette County.

WyoFile first reported the management action Thursday afternoon.

Dan Thompson, Game and Fish’s large carnivore supervisor, told the Jackson Hole Daily that the bear was killed Tuesday after more than a month of conflicts.

WyoFile earlier reported that the 2-year-old male bear and one of its littermates left Jackson Hole and trekked down to Sublette County, emerging near the Upper Green River. That happened after 399 kicked them off in mid-May.

Since then, Thompson said, Grizzly 1057, the bear killed Tuesday, had gotten a number of food rewards, approaching outbuildings as well as houses and occupied homes to search for human-related foods. In one case, it left prints on somebody’s window. At another point, it accessed food in a refrigerator on someone’s porch.

On Saturday, a man opened his porch door into the bear’s rump, Thompson said. The man fell back into his house. The bear didn’t move, including when the man fired shots into the air to try to scare it away.

“We basically removed this animal for the sake of human safety based on that continued food-conditioned and bold behavior around residences,” Thompson told the Daily on Thursday afternoon.

Thompson said that the bear was considered a “human safety threat,” and that the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed with Game and Fish’s decision to kill rather than relocate the bear.

“We do not move bears that we consider a human safety threat,” Thompson said.

“It’s a sad, sad thing,” said Tom Mangelsen, a grizzly advocate and photographer who has followed 399 for years, including the past three as she reared a litter of four cubs.

Grizzly 399 is the most famous bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, if not the world, and made a name for herself by raising her cubs along park roads and people, attracting huge crowds of onlookers. 

Mangelsen pointed out that 399 and her offspring had spent their upbringing around people and buildings in Grand Teton National Park. He argued that such features were just “part of the landscape” to those bears.

“It shouldn’t be punished because it was around houses,” he said of Grizzly 1057.

The matriarch and her four cubs did, however, traipse through southern Jackson Hole multiple times over the past two falls, getting into human-related foods as they did so.

Thompson said that the locations of the other three bears in 399’s most recent litter are unknown and that his department hasn’t responded to any conflicts with animals matching their descriptions. Thompson said Game and Fish hadn’t had contact for weeks with the other bear previously seen with 1057 in Sublette County.

The department had, however, been trying to secure attractants near 1057 before it was trapped and killed, including by hauling garbage and other foods away from people’s homes to the dump. The bear, however, continued approaching people’s homes and looking for food, Thompson said.

“It was really hard to get in front of the bear,” he said.

Grizzly bears are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, though Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove those protections. In the meantime, trapping and killing a grizzly — something agencies refer to as “removal,” though bears can also be removed alive and placed in zoos — requires approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service. In this case, the service said in a statement that it approved killing Grizzly 1057 “out of concern for human safety.

“This bear became more emboldened in their behavior while seeking food rewards and habituation to the presence of humans,” the statement said.

A spokesman said the agency had “nothing further to add” and referred the Daily to Game and Fish.

Mangelsen said Game and Fish’s decision to kill the bear was a “self-fulfilling prophesy,” referencing statements that Game and Fish and the Fish and Wildlife Service made earlier in the year about how they would handle bears. Both agencies have said since April that they anticipated conflicts with 399’s offspring as a result of the time they spent accessing human-related food in Teton County.

Thompson, at one point, said relocating the bears would be difficult given that past, leaving removal as one of the only options for managing them. He said state and federal officials didn’t look into live placement in a zoo in 1057’s case because of the 2-year-old bear’s behavior.

Mangelsen wasn’t surprised by officials’ decision.

“He said that’s what they’re going to do,” the photographer said of Thompson.

“They could have easily relocated it someplace to give it at least a small chance of survival,” Mangelsen said. “If anything, it might come back to Teton Park.”

Thompson said officials had been trying to be honest with the public this spring because habituated behavior and food conditioning can lead to dangerous conflicts between humans and bears.

He said bear managers knew they would be lambasted for the decision.

But, he said, “we have to live with ourselves.” 

And, Thompson said, they would also have to live with the “liability and negligence” if Grizzly 1057 had returned after being moved and ended up injuring a person.

 

 

This story was published on July 14, 2022.

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